Five reasons to read the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger

finishing-school-collage

MADEMOISELLE GERALDINE’S FINISHING ACADEMY FOR YOUNG LADIES OF QUALITY was established 1820 as an institution of finer learning, higher manners, and social graces for young women who wish to present their best selves to society. Our young women learn modern languages, dance, music, household management, etiquette, and finishing from the finest instructors on land or in aether. And each morning, after breakfast, every student recites, with religious solemnity, the school motto, ut acerbus terminus: TO THE BITTER END.

Our students don’t just learn to curtsy—they learn to finish—both the right kind and the wrong kind of finishing. But please note that our alumni are not simply assassins. A graduate of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s would never complete an engagement in a way that was messy, unbecoming of a lady, or attracting of attention. They are discrete, they are subtle: they are ladies of quality.

(from the Finishing School website, http://finishingschoolbooks.com/the-academy)

Want to have a heap of fun? Step one: Get your hands on Etiquette & Espionage. Step two: Keep reading until you’ve read all four book in the series.

And better yet: Get the audiobooks! These books deserve a nice, relaxed listen.

I read Etiquette & Espionage years ago, when it first came out (review), and had a deliciously lovely time with it. So why did I stop? I’m not exactly sure, except (a) my dreaded aversion to series-reading raised its ugly head and caused me a fatal lack of interest by the time book #2 was released, and (b) somehow in the interim, I’d convinced myself that the series had too juvenile a tone to appeal to me in the long run.

Wrong on both counts. What was I thinking?

All these years, I’ve managed to believe that I wouldn’t enjoy the Finishing School series, and as a result, I ended up depriving myself — until now! — of the pleasure of reading these super silly yet totally wonderful books.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

So, if any of you either haven’t heard of the series, or heard of the books but aren’t convinced that you should give them a try, here are five reasons why they need to be at the top of your MUST READ or MUST LISTEN lists, ASAP.

1) Fantastic world-building: The world of the Finishing School is full of Victorian manners, proper English ladies and gentlemen, lots of tea, and all sorts of supernatural beings — who are an accepted and honored part of society, thank you very much. Vampires, werewolves, and ghosts exist, mingle with humans, and are received in the finest of homes. A steampunk sensibility is in the forefront throughout, so expect lots of gears, dirigibles, mechanical servants and soldiers, valves, frequensors, and the like.

2) Strong female characters: The finishing school of the series title is a floating school housed in a dirigible, in which “young ladies of quality” become finished — in the dangerous arts of espionage, artifice, and assassination, among other important subjects. The most talented of the girls may have careers ahead of them as intelligencers, or may be destined to marriage to high ranking gentlemen so they can work their wiles behind the scenes. In any case, the young women we meet have backbones and brains, are handy with all manner of weaponry (I love Sophronia’s bladed fan), and can out-think any and all bad guys on a moments’ notice. Main character Sophronia and her best friends Dimity, Agatha, and Sidheag aren’t afraid to fight, scheme, flirt, and lie in order to protect each other and the people they care about. What’s more, Sophronia especially doesn’t particularly care about the rules of society, and is determined to set her own course and grab her own destiny, no matter whether others want to take her choices away.

3) Sense of humor: From the smallest of touches to the sublimely ridiculous, Gail Carriger’s writing has just enough arch humor to make every moment fun without crossing the line into dumb jokes. The conversations and descriptions all add to the overall sense of never taking things seriously, broken only when there are moments of true sorrow or tragedy, which the author is equally good at conveying. For snippets of the awesome writing and dialogue, check out some of my Thursday Quotables selections — here and here,

4) Terrific narrator: This is why I so highly recommend the audiobooks. The narrator is amazing! Moira Quirk captures the wickedly funny nature of the dialogue through her sharp-edged delivery, phrasing, and rhythms. She lends distinct voices to Sophronia and her friends, as well as to the oh-so-amusing vampire Professor Braithwope and the countless other unique characters, capturing the class differences with ease… and making me laugh out loud on a regular basis. (Note to self: Stop listening to funny  audiobooks in public.)

5) Visits from familiar friends: Prior to writing the Finishing School books, Gail Carriger had already collected a devoted following of her Parasol Protectorate series (which I adore). Although Finishing School is set approximately 25 years before the start of Soulless, book #1 in the Parasol Proctorate, there are quite a few familiar characters who appear in both series. Conveniently, since we’re talking about supernatural beings, there’s no reason why everyone’s favorite vampire, Lord Akeldama, can’t be a major player in Sophronia’s world too — looking as fashionable and fabulous as always, of course. Some of the others making appearances, large or small, in the Finishing School books are Sidheag Maccon and Genevieve Lefoux, plus a few others we see more or less in the shadows, going unnamed, but awfully familiar, like an inscrutable butler and a sandy-haired Beta werewolf.

Convinced yet?

In each book, the storyline builds on itself, adding to our knowledge of the characters’ inner lives and personal strengths, and then showing them in action as they team up to stop the bad guys and pretty much save the world, or at least, the British Empire. As this series is YA-targeted, the main steam in the story comes from the boiler rooms, not from sexytimes — if you’re looking for adult sexual encounters, check out the Parasol Protectorate books. Still, the Finishing School books contain some truly spectacular romantic moments, a love triangle that’s more than your typical YA three-sided geometry, and a crossing of class and race lines that make Sophronia a woman far ahead of her own time.

But let’s not get too serious about all this. The Finishing School books are good, silly, fun  — amazing characters, dynamic plot, loads of steampunk detailing, and dramatic, hair-raising escapes and adventures.

Please, please, please go check this series out! You’ll thank me. I promise.

Save

Save

Let us now praise gorgeous books

My photos simply won’t do this book justice, but I still have to share. I was so excited to get this delivered this week:

kindred-cover

It’s a brand new release — a graphic novel adaptation of the late, great Octavia Butler’s masterpiece Kindred.

A few more peeks:

img_4335

img_4334

img_4333

I hope to start reading this graphic novel this week. Kindred is an amazing book — if you haven’t read the original novel, do it now!! I can’t wait to see if the power and intensity of the book translate well into graphic novel format.

I’ll let you know!

All the books I meant to read – 2016 edition

goodbye-2016

2016.

Where did you go? You just whizzed on by, and I haven’t gotten to so many things I thought I’d do this year.

And by “things I thought I’d do”, I mean “books I thought I’d read”.

I thought I’d gotten much better about not buying books unless I’m sure I’ll read them… and yet, it’s somewhat embarrassing to look back at all the new books I bought this past year that I still haven’t cracked open.

Anyone who happens to read my “Monday Check-in” posts might be familiar with my “Fresh Catch” section, where I highlight the new books that came my way each week. When I look back at all of the Fresh Catch books from 2016, it’s pretty obvious that I am just not keeping up with my purchases!

But, hey. I WILL read these books. Eventually. I bought them because I wanted to read them, and I still do. More hours in a day, that’s what I need! Meanwhile, I thought I’d gather up all those Fresh Catch books from the year (excluding library books, ARCs, Kindle books, and books I picked up for $1 at the big library sale), and put together a visual reminder of all of those books I was so excited to get.

Here’s a salute to my unread books of 2016!

Save

Save

Help! I’ve got a children’s book earworm, and I don’t know what it’s from!

woman-1172721_1920Lend a reader a hand, won’t you?

Since yesterday, I’ve had lines from a children’s book stuck in my head. Does this count as an earworm, or does that only refer to music? Whatever — I’m saying it counts.

So… my earworm.

I know this is from something my sister and I used to read a lot as kids. I think it’s from a children’s book, but it could also just be from a short piece within a collection. I’ve tried Googling, and I’ve come up with absolutely nothing.

Here’s what I remember — it’s a rhyming story set in a kingdom with a really unfair ruler. And it has something to do with taxes. And I think someone named Max.

(I know, taxes sounds like a really weird topic for a kids’ book, but hey, I didn’t write the thing!)

The lines I know (or kind of know):

A plague on Max’s taxes! They are anything but fair! He taxes both our income and our patience, we declare.

And

So up they rose upon their toes and [something about sneaking into the palace].

And in the end,

They stuck their tacks in Max!

Am I completely crazy?

If you have any idea what this could be, please let me know! You’ll have my eternal gratitude!

Burning Questions: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

flame banner

In which I ask the questions that keep me up at night…

I’ve read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at least 4 or 5 times, and now I’m listening to the audiobook. It’s my first time revisiting HP4 in a few years, and here’s what’s on my mind and making me lose sleep:

WHY IS HARRY REQUIRED TO COMPETE IN THE TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT???

Apparently, the rules state that if your name comes out of the goblet, you must compete. Dumbledore says that Harry doesn’t have a choice, because it’s a binding magical contract.

Wait a sec — a magical contract?

Doesn’t a contract imply consent? You have to sign your name to a contract in order for it to be binding. You certainly have to enter into it knowingly and willingly.

The noun contract is defined as a written or spoken agreement, especially one concerning employment, sales, or tenancy, that is intended to be enforceable by law.

So if Harry’s name was submitted by someone else, shouldn’t the implied contract be null and void? After all, he didn’t put his name in the goblet. He did not agree. (He’s also underage, so he doesn’t meet the tournament requirements.) But really, most importantly, he was not a party to the terms and conditions.

What would happen if he refused to compete, or if Dumbledore refused to let him? Would he die? Would he be cursed? Would his hair fall out? What’s the consequence?

I NEED TO KNOW.

It’s easy, upon first read, to skim the fine print in order to get on with the story — and it’s a damned fine story. And sure, if Harry weren’t required to compete, then there wouldn’t be any plot to the book. (Imagine what a great 4th year Harry might have had if he’d just been sitting in the stands as a spectator, alongside Ron and Hermione.)

So why doesn’t Dumbledore find a way to get Harry out of the tournament, suspecting as he does that someone entered Harry in order to do him harm? Why is everyone willing to just accept the idea of a binding magical contract?

Seriously. I really want to know what would have happened if Harry just said no.

Anyone else losing sleep over this?

Just me?

Check out the cover of Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs!

I was so excited to see this on Facebook while I was away on vacation! As a big fan of the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, it makes me soooo happy to ponder the glories of this cover:

silence_fallen_layout.indd

 

Silence Fallen is book #10 in the series. The expected publication date is March 7, 2017… which can’t possibly get here soon enough!

Synopsis:

In the #1 New York Times bestselling Mercy Thompson novels, the coyote shapeshifter has found her voice in the werewolf pack. But when Mercy’s bond with the pack—and her mate—is broken, she’ll learn what it truly means to be alone…

Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes—only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe…

Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise…

Did you get chills? I got chills. I’m so scared for Mercy! This sounds amazing. Can’t wait!

Find Silence Fallen at:

Goodreads
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

And PS – If you haven’t read any of the Mercy books, start with Moon Called and then keep going! Such an amazing series.

When is local too local?

San Francisco. As in, I left my heart…

San Francisco, CA, USA

I’m a transplant, as are a good chunk of the people I meet here in SF. I grew up on the East Coast, but San Francisco has been home for 20+ years now. And obviously, I must love it, since I’ve stayed and put down roots.

It always amuses me when I read books or see movies or TV shows set in my fair city. Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I really don’t. Which brings me to the question:

When is local too local?

Is there such a thing as having too much local content in fiction? When does it enhance, and when does it distract?

SF cableI’ve read plenty of books by now that are set in San Francisco. Because, let’s face it, San Francisco is one of those places that get instant recognition. Golden Gate Bridge, Victorian houses, Alcatraz… they’re all so picturesque, while also being worldwide tourist magnets. So sometimes, key scenes in books will take place with the bridge or the skyline in the backdrop, and that’s about it. But sometimes, the city itself is a part of the story, and that can be a wonderful thing.

Some of my favorites take place in San Francisco. Take for example the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin, which is pure and simple an ode to the history and soul and flavor of the city. On a different note, there are the works of Christopher Moore, who sets remarkably weird and wacky supernatural tales in the City by the Bay — and it totally works. I mean, vampire parrots of Telegraph Hill? The Marina Safeway as a key plot location? A heroic Golden Gate Bridge painter? Moore’s books are hilarious, and the way he uses the city’s oddities and quirks (and notable personae, especially the Emperor) are just delightful.

I’ve also read a few great books where the city is just a subtle presence, but one that adds flavor without hitting the big tourist attractions. A recent example is the delightful YA novel Up To This Pointe, which delights in the quieter parts of SF that only residents really know and love — West Portal, the Outer Sunset, and Ocean Beach (my side of town!). The places here aren’t the point of the story, but they do add a sense of home and connection that give the main character roots and a point of origin.

SF grpahic 2Still, sometimes, the local flavor can feel like it’s inserted in order to check items off a list. Maybe it’s when the details are overdone — in one book, every time the characters take public transportation, the specific bus route is named — and I’d find myself veering out of the story and into an internal dialogue about how the N doesn’t actually stop there or no, that’s not the best way to get from the avenues to downtown. In a recent urban fantasy book (which I didn’t enjoy as a whole, and which shall remain nameless), whenever the main character would rush off to save the day, I felt like the story was being narrated by GPS: She took a left on Van Ness, then turned right on Sutter and continued onward for a mile and a half. Not only was it not engaging writing, but again, it completely took me out of the story and into recontructing street maps in my head.

My most recent foray into San Francisco fiction is the new novel All Stories Are Love Stories by Elizabeth Percer (reviewed here). In this book, catastrophic earthquakes that ravish the city serve as a backdrop for a study of characters and their loves and losses. The relationships are interesting enough, but once the quakes hit, all I wanted was to know more. The book does a great job of describing the reasons why huge quakes in SF would be devastating — the crowded design, the unstable ground, the drought, the understaffing of local emergency response, and the reliance on bridges for 2/3 of the entry points to the city. I was interested in the characters, but I couldn’t maintain my focus on them once the local landmarks started coming down and the fires started destroying Chinatown and North Beach. At that point, the SF resident in me just wanted to know more — what was still standing? Did they get the fires out? What happened to the bridges? … and my interest in the main storyline, the characters and their fates, dwindled in the face of the destruction of the place I call home. (I had a quibble with the end of the book as well, which jumps forward a few months and shows the city bouncing back — which is nice, but doesn’t tell me how they got there, and left me feeling that it was a little too rosy to be realistic.)

Don’t even get me started on San Francisco in film. Have you noticed how much movie folks love to destroy San Francisco? Quick, need a scene to show horrific destruction due to aliens/melting of the earth’s core/rampaging apes? Cut to the Golden Gate Bridge! Seriously, it’s kind of ridiculous how often movies use the bridge as shorthand for letting us know that life as we know it is now at serious risk. Can’t they destroy something else once in a while?

street

For me, the local setting in fiction is a mixed bag. When well done, it can absolutely enhance my enjoyment of a good story. I love when the essence, sights and sounds and smells, of a particular neighborhood are used to give texture or groundedness to a story. Rooting the characters in a real place and time can make them seem more alive, and can make the story feel like it could be happening just around the corner. But when the place overrides the story elements, or when the background events seem more attention-worthy than the actual plot, that’s when I start to have trouble with it all.

How about you? How do you feel about reading fiction that’s set in your real-world location, or a place that you know and love? Does it add to your enjoyment, or does it distract you from the plot and characters?

Please share your thoughts!

A note on images: I’d love to give credit where credit is due! All images were found on Pinterest, but original sources were unclear.

A book and a movie: Still Alice

In the past four days, I’ve read the book Still Alice by Lisa Genova and then watched the movie version as well. Talk about intense!

Still AliceStill Alice (the book) is the profoundly moving story of Dr. Alice Howland, a world-renowned Harvard professor specializing in cognitive psychology. In her early fifties, Alice notices a few lapses, moments where a word she uses in her daily life is suddenly gone and beyond her reach. After getting lost while running a route she’s followed for years, Alice considers what might be wrong, at first associating memory issues with menopausal side effects.

Finally, a neurologist delivers the awful news: Alice has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The progression can be delayed, perhaps, with medication, but cannot be prevented. Through Alice’s eyes, we feel the heartbreak as this incredibly talented, intellectual woman slowly loses bit and pieces of herself — losing the ability to teach, to work, to read, and even to recognize her own children.

It’s astounding to get Alice’s perspective, because while she recognizes that she’s losing more and more, she often doesn’t know in the moment that anything is wrong or just how bad it’s become. And yet, she’s a remarkable woman who sees the beauty in life as well. Early on, she contemplates suicide, but realizes she still has a list of things she wants to do. She may no longer lecture or publish, but she can look forward to holding her first grandchild and seeing her children find their own paths to happiness.

In the 2014 movie version, Julianne Moore plays Alice, and absolutely deserves her Best Actress Academy Award for this role. She capture Alice’s changes with such emotion and nuance — the disbelief, the helplessness, the striving to connect even as she faces a growing chasm between herself and the people around her. It’s beautifully acted, and beautifully told.

Still AliceI don’t always love movie adaptations of books I’ve read, and often find myself too busy being nit-picky to really just sit back and experience the movie. That didn’t happen here, even though only a day had gone by in between. The movie is faithful to the book, with only minor changes such as relocating from Boston to New York — nothing that substantially changes the main idea or tone of the story. The supporting cast is terrific as well, especially Alec Baldwin as Alice’s husband — loving, angry, hurt — and Kristen Stewart as the youngest daughter, Lydia. The relationship between Lydia and Alice is very well done in the movie. They start with conflict between them: Alice wants Lydia to go to college, and Lydia wants to pursue her acting career. Neither can help hurting the other, but as Alice’s disease progresses, she loses her intense focus on her plans for Lydia and becomes more open to appreciating her in the now, and Lydia finds a patience and devotion for her mother that let her get past the earlier tension and mistrust. It’s actually quite lovely to watch this pair — I totally believed them as mother and daughter.

No movie can capture everything from a book, and by necessity, the movie presents us with an external view of Alice’s ordeal, rather than allowing us to experience it alongside her as we do in the book. Even so, the movie is beautiful and moving, and I recommend it highly.

Lisa Genova is a fiction writer with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. I’ve now read three of her four novels, and these three each show, in different ways, the human, emotional impact of a severe, life-altering medical condition. She manages to combine absolutely fascinating science with family dramas that feel true to life.

Still Alice is a tough book to read, in terms of emotional impact, but well worth it… and I feel the same about the movie.

Beyond this book, I also recommend Left Neglected, about a woman with an incredible, intriguing brain injury that changes her whole life, and Inside the O’Briens (review), one of my top picks for 2015, about a family dealing with Huntington’s disease.

Catching up with Kate: A view from the halfway mark of the Kate Shugak series

for_white_backgroundsIf you read my blog from time to time, you may have noticed how often I seem to be reading a Kate Shugak novel. Kate Shugak, for those who don’t know, is the main character in an ongoing mystery series by Dana Stabenow. The series is currently 20 books strong, and the author is supposedly working on #21.

How did I get started with the Kate books? I honestly don’t know.

Perhaps I picked up the first one due to my obsession with Alaska.

Or maybe I picked up book #1 after seeing the series mentioned by Diana Gabaldon in her Methadone List.

Either way, something just clicked for me — and here I am a little over a year later, just wrapping up my read of book #10, Midnight Come Again.

I started the Kate Shugak series via audiobook, and enjoyed the first several volumes that way until I decided that I really wanted to gobble up the stories at a faster pace than the audiobooks allowed. Fortunately, my local library has kept the hard copies coming, so I was able to get the next book pretty much as soon as I put down the last.

The first book in the series, A Cold Day For Murder, was published in 1992. I listened to it in March 2015, and here’s what I had to say about it at the time, according to my Goodreads review:

I just finished the audio version of this book, and truly enjoyed it. A murder mystery set in the Alaska Bush, A Cold Day for Murder includes offbeat characters, gorgeous settings, politics, greed, snowmobiles, mines, shotguns, roadhouses, and so much more. The audiobook narrator does a great job of giving the various characters distinct voices, and the whole story moves along at a fast pace with never a dull moment. Main character Kate Shugak is a tough-as-nails crime investigator with local roots, family and clan loyalties, and an unerring sense of justice and the ability to sniff out clues.

Highly recommended for mystery fans, as well as for anyone wanting a little taste of Alaska.

I continued onward, and grew to love Kate herself as well as the sprawling cast of supporting characters more and more with each book I read. Kate is a smart, tough loner, a damaged soul, and a woman committed to justice and truth. She lives alone on a homestead miles from anyone, within the borders of a fictitious national park in the Wrangell area of Alaska. After a brief career in the district attorney’s office in Anchorage investigating horrible crimes, Kate seeks solitude and quiet, with just her enormous companion Mutt — half wolf, half husky — at her side throughout the Alaskan winters.

Kate is also a member of a large Aleut family, and her relationship with her grandmother, the domineering and well-respected tribal leader, forms a major theme throughout the books. Kate continually gets pulled back into the world of crime investigation, and each book has Kate at the center of one crime or another, not always willingly.

Through Kate’s experiences, we travel the state, from the Park to the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea, to the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay and the fishing harbors of Prince William Sound. Besides providing an up-close view of the natural wonders and man-made curiosities of Alaska, the books also weave into the story the ongoing corruption, political maneuvering, and favor trading that goes on behind the scenes. We get a crash course in Alaska politics and hot-button issues, like the exploitation of resources, the battle to keep tribal rights to subsistence fishing, the tourist and fishing industries’ impact on local economies, and so much more.

You can tell that my enthusiasm for Kate’s adventures stayed strong by reading my comments on book #4, A Cold-Blooded Business:

Another excellent addition to the Kate Shugak mystery series! Kate herself is a magnificent main character, tough as nails, ultra smart, and with a fierce love for her people and her land. In this book, Kate is hired to investigate drug dealing at the Prudhoe Bay oil facility, which means we get to see Kate outside of her comfort zone, in an entirely new setting, but still doing what she does best. It’s a surprisingly nuanced look at the impact of the oil industry in Alaska, as well as a terrific, dangerous adventure. Highly recommended!

What’s funny is that I’m not usually a mystery reader. In fact, while I generally enjoy the crime story in each of the Kate books, what truly draws me back over and over again is the people angle. I’ve just really fallen for Kate and the gang — Chopper Jim, Bobby Clark, and the rest of the folks living in and around Niniltna and hanging out at Bernie’s Roadhouse. And, as I mentioned, I’ve got this thing about Alaska. I’ve been for a few visits now, and can’t wait to go back… and meanwhile, the next best thing to being there is traveling there in a book!

Okay, but then I got to the 9th book, Hunter’s Moon, and I almost threw the damn thing across the room:

Damn you, Dana Stabenow! How could you do that? My heart is broken into a million teeny pieces right now. I love this series, but this one is just devastating. NOOOOO.

Ahem. That said, bring on the next book!

Not to be spoilery or anything, but man, that book just killed me. I won’t say why. Read it yourself and find out!

I couldn’t stop there, of course, so I continued on with #10, Midnight Come Again, which I finished (much) earlier today:

Appropriately, I finished Midnight Come Again just past midnight. It’s one of those books that is best read straight through, even if it means giving up a little sleep.

Midnight Come Again is an installment of the Kate Shugak series that’s hard to put down — less for the mystery than for the character development of Kate. The mystery is kind of “meh” in this book — Russian mafia, money laundering, involvement of FBI and state troopers. The personal side, though, is terrific.

Kate is dealing (not well) with the aftermath of the events from the previous book, Hunter’s Moon — and no, I won’t be forgiving Dana Stabenow for that any time soon! She’s a mess who’s shut down emotionally, living under a false name in the tiny town of Bering. When Jim Chopin — Chopper Jim — gets assigned undercover work in Bering, he’s instrumental in cracking Kate’s shell and helping her start her slow crawl back to life.

Kate is an amazing character, and she’s been through hell. I can’t wait for the next book, and plan to keep reading the Kate Shugak series until I’m all caught up!

Of course, I’m going to continue onward with #11 just as soon as my library hold request comes in. Meanwhile, I’m thrilled to have reached the halfway mark… and also, to have finally made it out of the 1990s! I have ten more books to go before I’ll be all caught up (#20, Bad Blood, was published in 2013). I’m not binge-reading or anything. I think of the Kate Shugak books as my reading comfort food (although the last two were about as far from comfort as I could imagine). I like to pick up a volume or two in between other things, both for the sake of getting a long-distance taste of Alaska and for the opportunity to check in with Kate.

Kate is one hell of a terrific character, and I’m invested in her life! I want that woman to be happy. Are you listening, Dana Stabenow? Ha, just kidding, don’t worry about me. A happy Kate probably wouldn’t have nearly as much drama in her life.

For those of you who’ve read further in the series — don’t tell me anything! For those who haven’t given the books a try yet, consider this my recommendation, yet again. The Kate Shugak books have heart, humor, drama, adventure, an amazing setting, and truly quirky and wonderful characters. Not to mention the odd grizzly bear.

Bundle up, light a fire, pour some hot cocoa, and curl up over at Kate’s homestead!

kate 2

 

On Mercy Thompson and Kate Shugak

I’m having the somewhat mind-warping experience of reading two amazing books about two of my favorite characters right at the same time — and it struck me that despite seemingly huge differences, Mercy Thompson and Kate Shugak have a lot in common.

First, a bit about both.

Frost BurnedMercy Thompson, the heroine of Patricia Briggs’s popular urban fantasy series, is a VW mechanic living in the Tri-Cities area of the state of Washington. Mercy is a coyote shapeshifter who seems to always find herself at the center of trouble. Over the course of nine novels so far, Mercy has become more and more involved with the local werewolf pack, first as a neighbor and a nuisance, but eventually as the Alpha’s mate and wife. Along the way, Mercy has taken on a whole host of bad guys, from demonic vampires to volcano gods, and has lived to tell the tale, sometimes only by the skin of her teeth.

15998421And Kate Shugak? Kate is the heroine of a mystery series by Dana Stabenow. Kate is a former investigator for the Anchorage DA’s office who lives on a homestead in the wilds of Alaska and would love to be left alone — except she keeps getting called back into the life of investigating crime and corruption. The bad guys here aren’t supernatural. So far, I’ve read six of the Kate books (out of 20 currently published), and I’ve seen Kate take on oilmen, drug dealers, sleazy businessmen looking to worm their way into exploiting natural resources, and smugglers of native artifacts.

So why do I equate the two? Let’s see:

Kate and Mercy are both outsiders. Kate grew up surrounded by family and tribe, but has spent most of her life wanting to distance herself from her grandmother’s manipulations and native politics. Mercy spent most of her life believing herself to be the only coyote shapeshifter in existence, never quite fitting in among the werewolves who’ve always been around her. Additionally, Kate and Mercy both were raised by foster parents, and seem to both carry scars from the absence of their own parents in their lives.

Kate is an Aleut. Mercy is of Native American heritage. Both have to deal with the blatant and implicit biases and injustices that come their way as women of color.

Kate is a kick-butt investigator who isn’t afraid to fight, is amazing with firearms, and can defend herself and anyone around her when things get dangerous. Mercy is a highly trained martial arts expert, who throws herself into a fight when needed, and will always do whatever she can to protect anyone who needs her.

Kate and Mercy have relationships that matter to them, but they’re also strong women who would never take orders or be less than 100% themselves just because of a man.

Kate and Mercy are survivors. They’ve been through hell. They’re scarred. They’ve risked themselves time and time again to do the right thing and protect those weaker than themselves.

Kate never goes anywhere without her huge dog Mutt, half-Husky, half-wolf. And Mercy seems to always be surrounded by her very own pack of wolves, most especially her beloved Alpha wolf Adam.

Kate and Mercy are both highly self-sufficient. Kate lives alone (with Mutt) at her homestead, miles from the nearest town, where she single-handedly hunts, chops wood, fetches what she needs, repairs building and vehicles, and keeps herself alive throughout Alaskan winters. Mercy is a talented mechanic who can fix anything with a motor, skilled with her hands and making a go of being a woman in a man’s world, defying gender roles on a daily basis.

Above all, they’re both smart, strong women who love deeply, cherish their independence, champion those who can’t stand up for themselves, fight for justice, and take no bull from anyone.

So despite the vast differences in their worlds — one full of the supernatural, the other a mundane world full of complicated people and politics — both Mercy and Kate are stand-out heroines who deal with tough surroundings and dangerous threats, but always remain true to themselves.

See, this is what I get for reading the new Mercy novel while in the middle of a Kate audiobook! I find the two running together in my mind, and can’t help thinking that it’s too bad that they belong to different worlds. They’d make an awesome team.

In any case, I absolutely love the world of Mercy Thompson, and I’m falling more and more under the spell of Kate Shugak. I hope to have many more books about both in my future!